Wednesday, October 28, 2009
By Alan Caruba
Though it pains me deeply, I have to agree with President Obama’s reluctance to send more troops into Afghanistan.
Perhaps he is thinking about the problems the Soviet Union encountered even though they had an estimated 100,000 troops there in the 1990s? Perhaps he is wondering why the United States has been there now for eight years with not much to show for it?
I am not interested in the “politics” of the President’s decision whether to stay, to increase troop strength, to maintain the current status, or to leave. Only leaving makes any sense and I worry that Obama may want to avoid looking like a wimp by pulling out.
To those that argue that leaving will embolden the Taliban or al Qaeda, may I respectfully suggest they don’t need anything to feel that way other than their fanatical belief in Islam.
Then there is the nasty little problem called Hamid Karzai and his government of Afghanistan; the one that stuffed the ballot boxes so blatantly in a recent election even the United Nations could not ignore it. As for his government, it ends at the city line of Kabul.
In the event you missed the news this week, we are bleeding troops there at an indefensible rate. Meanwhile, in Iraq, al Qaeda or some other group blew up a chunk of the presumably secure “Green Zone” in Baghdad, killing some 165 people, in order to undermine confidence in their current government. Another car bomb just went off in Pakistan; hardly news in a region where car bombs are the calling cards of every insurgency.
That’s what Arabs do. They may not like dictatorships, but they give ample evidence of being incapable of self-governance. The Ottoman Turks controlled the region from the 18th century until the demise of their empire following World War One. What we call the Middle East is largely the invention of the British and French.
Egypt has been run by Mubarak since 1981. The Assad family seized control of Syria in 1963. Iran has been run by the mullahs since 1979. Iraq was run by Saddam Hussein from 1979 until deposed by an American invasion in 2003.
Saudi Arabia has been run by Ibn Saud and his offspring since the 1920s and this is the case of the smaller emirates.
They are, as one diplomat described them, “tribes with flags.”
Afghanistan has been around since the days of Alexander the Great and he had a terrible time there. Every invading colonizing power that has ventured into Afghanistan has had a bad time. All eventually left.
We should, too.
Putting aside the likelihood that we can “win” a war of insurgency (Vietnam anyone?) there is one compelling reason why the U.S. should not waste its time, its treasure, and the lives of its brave troops there. The reason is oil. And Afghanistan does not have any.
In fact, about the only thing Afghanistan has are poppy fields for the purpose of producing heroin, its primary export.
Afghanistan does not have a stable government and what government it will have, no matter how many “elections” it holds, will be utterly and completely corrupt because that’s how business is conducted in a place that predates medieval Europe and most other nations.
The notion that the U.S. or NATO can or should engage in “nation building” in a place that’s been run by competing warlords and tribal chieftains ignores centuries of evidence to the contrary.
Though I do not credit Obama or the people around him with much intelligence, it could be they have looked at a map of the Middle East and concluded that Pakistan is the real problem. Only in recent months, despite having had billions of U.S. dollars poured into its coffers over the past decade, has Pakistan begun to marshal its military to attack the strongholds of al Qaeda and the Taliban in a frontier area adjacent to Afghanistan.
The reason for this is two-fold; the Pakistanis have been reluctant to venture into their frontier areas because it is full of fanatical Muslims and it is an area, like neighboring Afghanistan, in which it is difficult to conduct military operations.
Secondly and far more important to the Pakistanis is their belief that their other neighbor, India, is set to invade any minute of any day. They have believed this since becoming a nation specifically for Muslims in 1947, carved out of former Indian territory.
Did I mention there is no oil in Afghanistan? From the 1920s, following the demise of the Ottoman Empire that ruled the Middle East, the great powers, Russia, England, France and America, have butted heads over the region. The reason was oil.
While Afghanistan has been around forever, Iraq is a colonial invention of the British, as is Jordan. Syria and Lebanon were handed over to the French. The control of Iran, formerly Persia, changed hands between the British and Americans until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 turned it into a mad house run by mullahs.
So, President Obama is right to hesitate about sending more troops to Afghanistan and he will be right if he pulls out. It is doubtful the Russians will want to return any time soon.
After eight years in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military, a force composed of volunteers, is very tired and is very much in need of a rest as well as replenishment of just about everything needed to wage war.
Since the end of World War Two, the U.S. no longer fights wars to win. The Korean peninsula is still a stalemate. We now have embassies in Vietnam instead of armies. And the peoples of the Middle East are sick of us, no less than of our allies too.
It is time to leave Afghanistan and it has been time to leave for a very long time. Come on, Mr. President, do just one thing right.